This is a sort of travelogue, experiences and observations combined with random contemplations,
of a trip through Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam in Jan-March 2011. This blog is now closed.

Monday, 21 March 2011


(It appears that not everybody can see the photos; I couldn't log on for a few days myself. It would be really nice if the Vietnamese government, weary of even mild criticism, was blocking my site - the biggest compliment one could et, no? -, but I don't think that is the real cause, more likely a problem with the blogspot site management. I hope this has now been restored.)

(Also, I am afraid it has been raining quite a lot, unfortunately affecting the photos, once again. To be honest, I don't think that is the Vietnamese government's doing, either).
Vietnam has a railway network. Well, network is maybe too much said, there is only one major line, a single track of 1727 km from Ho Chi Mon City to Hanoi. There are no less than seven trains per day in each direction, the fastest taking 29 hours and stopping at just six stations in between. That’s almost 60 km an hour: high speed hasn’t arrived yet in Vietnam, but we knew that already.
Obviously, this was something we had to try, perhaps not for the entire length, but at least part of the route.
So we boarded the train in Hue. All passengers are gathered in a waiting hall, the door of which is opened some 15 minutes before the train arrives. And is then immediately closed again, so there is no way back. Hue station has seven tracks – indeed, for seven trains a day, plus the occasional freight train -, but it hasn’t got any platforms! And let me tell you, climbing into a train from ground level is quite a distance, especially if you are hauling up a few 20kg suitcases, as well. But the train was comfortable enough, good soft, reclining seats with plenty of leg room, and the view! We were heading for Danang, Vietnam’s third largest city, 2.5 hours to the south along a track that runs for a significant part right along the coast. Pity the weather, it was overcast and most of the time raining, but the journey was a spectacular one, overlooking from some 100 meters above a rough sea, with huge rolling waves crashing onto the rocky shore, alternated by the occasional secluded beach. Well, secluded: there is nobody around, indeed, but for those seven trains a day.

(1) Hue station – no platforms!, and (2) our train arriving (where in the world can you stand on the track photographing the train arriving?).
(3) Tunnel along the track from Hue to Danang.

(4, 5, 6) The view from the train, rocky coast, rolling waves and secluded beaches.
Danang is big, but like all Vietnamese towns, the centre is remarkably small, and cosy. Just a few streets, on the banks of yet another river, is where everything happens – and to be fair, that is not a lot. However, Danang has one of the cutest museums I have ever seen, the Cham museum, with a collection of sculptures from the old Champa empire, of which we saw already some remains in My Son. Where the sculptures in Angkor Wat seem to adhere to a certain prescribed posture, a standard pose we found back in all the temples, Champa art looks more frivolous, and especially the smaller, supporting sculptures are much more varied, yet finely executed. The only prescription seems to be an obsession with large, round breasts, present everywhere. I also like the history of the museum, which was started when one Charles Lemire needed space to display his collection of sculptures “discovered during his travels” – what better euphemism for robbery can you think of?

(7) Champa obsession, (8) a very unusual champa sculpture, in bronze – but still with the same obsession, and (9) some of the more frivolous sculpturing.
Danang also has an enormous stretch of sandy beach, over 30 km of it, and most famous as Rest & Recuperation destination for American GIs during the Vietnam War. But there are no people now. The fishermen here use some kind of funny basket to go around the nets, close to shore, and many of those are stored on the beach. However, not for long anymore, there is an incredible amount of construction going on, resorts and hotels, but more than that, enormous apartment complexes, all along the coast. Vietnam is getting a middle class.

(10, 11) Danang beach, and its fishermen baskets.

(12,13) Danang’s fishing fleet, in the Han River.
However, Vietnam’s preeminent beach resort is Nha Trang, further south, and - since we plan to fly back from Saigon anyhow, next week - in the right direction. So we hauled ourselves once again onto the train, this time for a nine hour stint, equally comfortable, with further fine views of rice paddies, rice paddies and more rice paddies, and free entertainment from all the happenings inside the train.
(14) Not easy, taking photos through the train window….

1 comment:

  1. Bruno I succeeded in reading your story and I think you did like the train in Danang.
    I cannot see the photos yet but I'll do that another time.